UA Researchers Discuss Cassini-Huygens Mission

Researchers discussed the upcoming Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn and preliminary composition results for Saturn’s tiny moon Phoebe at the University of Arizona this past Saturday. The public was invited to view informational displays, listen to speakers, and take part in a cake cutting ceremony.

Dr. Michael Drake, Director of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and Head of the Planetary Sciences Department at the University of Arizona, opened the speaking session with an introduction to the spacecraft and planned science at Saturn. Professor Robert Brown followed with an introduction to the VIMS Instrument for which he is principle investigator. The device has determined that Phoebe is composed primarily of water ice but it also found indications of frozen carbon dioxide as well. The instrument has detected other materials that have not yet been identified.

The Huygens probe now piggybacking on Cassini will be released on December 25, 2004 toward Titan. Titan is a mysterious moon shrouded in clouds. The probe will parachute through the moon’s atmosphere and take images and other measurements on its way to the surface. Professor Jonathan Lunine provided information about what is presently known about Titan and current theories regarding the thick presence of methane in the atmosphere and possible lakes of ethane and methane on the surface.

The final speaker of the evening was Professor Marty Tomasko, Principal Investigator for the Descent Imager/Spectral Radiometer (DISR) on the Huygens probe. This state-of-the-art device will peak out at the moon from the side of the probe during descent and snap up to 700 images. Professor Tomasko demonstrated his team’s ability to create panoramic images and video from these individual snapshots. These practice images and video were made from images taken near Tucson, Arizona using working duplicates of the equipment on Huygens.

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Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a writer and poet living in Tucson, Arizona. His poetry has been published in Impossible Archetype. His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey and Fairy Tale Review’s “Fairy-Tale Files“.